Woman takes fight to pyramid schemes targeting Auckland Pasifika

Source: 1News

For Tionly Fatukala it seemed simple, invest money into people in need, get others to do the same and she would see a return on that investment.

Tionly Fatukala lost thousands of dollars to a pyramid scheme.

Tionly had believed she was joining a “gifting group” that was helping others in her Tongan community, a cause which she was willing to invest her money in.

“At the time I thought my money will be gifted to someone who needed my money…it’s important I believed in it because [of] these Tongans [involved] I thought I could trust them, and I thought they were honest,” she told 1 NEWS' Barbara Dreaver. 

Tionly initially saw a return on her financial “gift” but this quickly changed, and she was left out of pocket.

The gifting group, which Tionly believed at first only had good intentions, was actually a pyramid scheme scamming her out of thousands of dollars.

Now Tionly is on a one-woman crusade to fight for justice for those who have lost money to pyramid scams like her.

1 NEWS understands that in the Tongan community in Auckland alone there are at least 18 pyramid schemes operating.

These schemes work by luring victims on the promise that if they put significant amounts of money into the scheme, which is presented as investment or gifting programmes, they will receive a big payday.

However, that big payday never comes.

Thousands of Tongans in Auckland have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to these schemes.

How these schemes work is by getting people to put in as little as $300 into the scheme with the promise that they’ll see a $1200 return in three weeks’ time.

This quickly escalates with people being asked to put in $10,000 with the promise that in five weeks’ time they’ll receive $50,000.

The reason this type of scheme can work is that a lot of people get a return on the money they put in to start with. But eventually those who invested money fall victim to the scheme and lose out.

Tionly was one of these victims losing $20,000 after becoming heavily involved and recruiting for a scheme.

To be scammed by her own community under the guise of helping fellow Tongans has been particularly devastating for Tionly.

“It’s sad for me because I’m Tongan and I was proud to be Tongan, but at the moment I’m so ashamed that these Tongans took advantage of us Tongans,” she says.

Now at great cost to herself and her family, Tionly has taken it upon herself to fight those who have been scamming the Tongan community through pyramid schemes.

“They designed it with dishonesty, with greed for money, quick cash and they took advantage of all these people,” she says.

At first Tionly thought she could ask the founders of the scheme she was recruiting for to repay members’ money.

“I am sad to see people asking for their refunds…[but] all I see are manipulating lies, false promises,” she says.

After failing to convince the organisers of the scheme to refund their members, Tionly began to hold public meetings to warn people against the scams and help her community from failing into the trap she was lured into.

“I’ve helped individual families through this pyramid [scheme],” she says.

“I helped a family who couldn’t afford a uniform. I had to buy food for a family…I saw their kids with no shoes.”

Other stories Tionly has witnessed are people who have lost their rent money to pyramid schemes to others having the car repossessed.

“Every day people are…relying on their refund, but they are not getting it. They are not getting refunded, and I think, believe, they will never get refunded.”

Speaking out against the pyramid schemes don’t come without risks, anyone who stands up to the schemes can be the subject of abuse.

Tionly and others who speak out have been the subject of personal abuse from those behind the pyramid schemes they were once a part of.

However, this won’t stop Tionly from making sure these schemes are held accountable.

But closing down these schemes can be difficult with many reforming and re-emerging under different names once they have collapsed.

The Commerce Commission has launched investigations into a number of possible pyramid schemes targeting Pasifika and the Tongan community in particular.